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CofE exempt from Government's same-sex marriage plans

Marriage is to be extended to same-sex couples, the Government announced today. Photo: Press Assocation

Equalities Minister Maria Miller confirmed in a statement in the Commons today that the Government will extend marriage to same-sex couples in a civil ceremony and allow those religious organisations which wish to conduct gay marriages to do so.

But in one of four 'locks' on the legislation, same-sex marriages will remain illegal for the Church of England.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller delivers her statement to the House of Commons. Credit: Press Association.

The Government has to balance the importance of treating all couples equally and fairly with respect for religious organisation's rights for their own beliefs.

We need to be fair to same sex couples. The state should not be banning them from such a great institution.

Equally, we need to be fair to people of faith and (so) religious protections that I will set out will ensure that fairness is at the heart of our proposals.

– Culture Secretary Maria Miller

The Government has said its plans to legislate same-sex marriage build on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of religion.

The "quadruple" legal lock included in the face of the legislation is as follows:

  • No religious body or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.
  • It will be unlawful for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation's governing body has expressly 'opted in'.
  • The Equality Act 2010 is to be amended to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
  • The legislation will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply.

Political Editor Tom Brady reports:

Paul Parker, the recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, welcomed the legislation.

He said: "The day the first same-sex couple can marry in their Quaker meeting will be a wonderful day for marriage, and a great day for religious freedom in Britain."

However, veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell denounced the exemption for the Church of England and the Church in Wales as "a disappointing fudge" which could be open to legal challenge.

"Exempting the official established church sends the wrong signal. There is no reason why these churches should be treated differently from other faiths," he said.

"The Government is treating two churches differently from all other religions. Discriminating between faith groups is probably illegal under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights."

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, senior Tory backbencher Brian Binley warned that his approach was out of step with the instincts of their supporters and was creating "chaos" in the party.

Speaking after the statement, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the whole of his cabinet were in favour of same-sex marriages but was disappointed by the Church of England exemption:

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